St. Patrick was born around 387 near a village
called Bannavem Taburniae in Roman Britain where his father, a nobleman, had an estate. Scholars are divided over its location,
some saying it was in Scotland, others arguing it was in Wales.
His real name was Maewyn Succat which indicates
that he was probably born to a Celtic family who were living under Roman rule and who were employed by the Romans. His father
Calpurnius was a decurion - either a soldier in charge of ten men in the Roman army or a member of the Roman municipal senate
who ran local government. His father was also a deacon and his grandfather Potitus a priest so the family he was brought up
in was Christian. The Romans were in Britain from AD 43 to 409, so at the time of his birth British society had been influenced
considerably by the Roman way of life. At the age of 16 Maewyn was kidnapped by raiding Irish pirates who attacked his father's
estate. He tells in his Confessio how he was one of thousands carried off as slaves.
Tending pigs for an Irish chieftan named Milchu
on an isolated mountain (believed to have been Slemish in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland) he turned to prayer for solace and
the Christian faith he had been taught as a child became real to him.
He relates in his Confessio how he was told
in a dream to go to a port 200 miles away and he would find a way to return home. He tells how he found passage on a ship
and arrived 3 days later in a desolate country where by prayer he found a herd of pigs to feed them all when they were hungry.
He remained a captive of these people for two months and eventually returned to his family who begged him to stay at home.
However Patrick had a dream about the people
of Ireland calling him to "walk among them once more". In his dream a man called Victoricus who came from the wood of Voclut
near the "western sea" (possibly Co.Mayo) gave him many letters.When he read them, Patrick thought he could hear the
voices of these people and was very moved. This vision raises some questions. Had Patrick ever been in the west of Ireland,
had he known these people before and possibly lived among them for a time? Or was Victor simply a symbolic Irishman? So many
questions about the life of Patrick remain unanswered.
Had he remained in Roman Britain instead of
having been kidnapped, Patrick, as a nobleman's son, would have undergone the Roman equivalent of a university education and
would have been proficient in Latin. He indicates in his Confessio that Latin was not his native language and regrets his
lack of education.
This lack of formal learning prevented his
being chosen to go to Ireland as a missionary. Not until after he had spent years of study in European monasteries was he
finally sent to Ireland in 432 or 433 to replace the missionary bishop Palladius who died in 431. There were already Christians
in Ireland when Patrick arrived, according to Scottish chronicler John of Fordun, so he cannot be credited with having brought
Christianity to Ireland. However it was Patrick and his disciples who converted the majority of the people of Ireland. The
name Patrick probably means nobleman. Roman society was divided into Plebians (or commoners) and Patricians. The Latin word
Patricius means nobleman. There is an old Irish rhyme which begins "St. Patrick was a gentleman..."